News Categories
Archives

Doctor Who and the Doppelganger Dilemma

Connor Johnston explores some of the many examples of double-casting in Doctor Who.

Throughout its vast history, Doctor Who has many times featured actors and actresses in various roles, and in most cases these repeat castings have included those who have gone on to play companions and Doctors alike. Only recently has the show spawned an audience that, quite surprisingly, has requested justification for actors and actresses portraying more than one role in the Whoniverse – and judging from the cloudy confirmation from Steven Moffat recently that Peter Capaldi’s “familiar faces” will be touched on in some shape or form during Series 8, it seems “justification” is just what the Whoniverse will receive – but is it at all necessary?

Today I’ll be taking a look at the Doctor Who doppelgängers over the years before finally deciding if the plot of production elements and casting is deserving of a mention during the show.

By Chance

Colin-Baker-Commander-Maxil-Arc-of-InfinityNot counting Capaldi (more on that later), there have been two previous instances in the history of Doctor Who where an actor that will go on to play the Doctor has featured in the universe well before casting decisions had been made placing them in the titular role. The first occurrence of this is the casting of Colin Baker as Commander Maxil in the Peter Davison episode “Arc of Infinity”. Baker played the zealous Time Lord that was part of Gallifrey’s Chancellery Guard – and then a year later, he would bring a similar confidence to his portrayal of the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor. As a result of Maxil firing at the Fifth Doctor during the episode, Baker has often joked that he gained the role of the Doctor by shooting the incumbent.

The second “by chance” occurrence that EVERYONE seems to either forget or ignore is that of David Tennant as Feldwebel Kurtz in the Seventh Doctor Big Finish Audio “Coldizt” – an adventure that featured the Seventh Doctor and Ace being caught intruding in Colditz Castle and pressured for the secrets of Time Travel by the Third Reich.

To Serve the Plot

The Enemy of the World & The Web of Fear Trailers & ClipsOther doppelgängers of the Doctor include both the Abbot of Amboise and World Dictator Salamander – played by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton during their own respective eras. For both these characters their visual similarities to the Doctor were played upon during the plot of their respective episode. Hartnell’s double casting in “The Massacre” did receive a minor reference in the way of the Doctor’s companion Steven thinking at first that the Abbot was the Doctor in disguise, but Troughton’s double act received a far greater acknowledgement with the actor playing both the lead protagonist and lead antagonist of “The Enemy of the World” – and furthermore has the main plot revolve around the Doctor’s uncanny resemblance being used to impersonate and bring down the cruel dictator.

The Capaldi Conundrum

capaldi-facesWhat does the future hold for the exploration of the Doctor doppelgänger”? This is the question that secured itself on a fair amount of Whovian’s lips immediately after the casting announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. Having appeared in the “Fires of Pompeii” as marble seller Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, and in “Torchwood: Children of Earth” as UK Home Office official John Frobisher – the questions began to arise: Were Caecilius and John actually the Doctor in disguise? Theories and speculation have run wild; a couple of my own personal favorites:

John Frobisher was actually Frobisher the shape shifting Penguin in disguise as the Doctor to achieve political power!”

or

The Omnipotent Argument: Time Lords, like humans, cannot imagine faces they haven’t seen at some point in their lives.

I can’t pretend to know what Series 8 will bring in the form of revelations, but now that we know that Peter Capaldi’s past appearances in the Whoniverse will still be addressed in some shape or form we know that every theory out there has every chance of becoming a reality. The question still remains however whether it should be or not, but more on that later.

Companions and Friends

doctor-who-reused-actors-companionsThe doppelgängers are not reserved just for future Doctors; many companions have also been involved during the production of the show in various roles. Jacqueline Hill, known to us better as First Doctor companion Barbara Wright, returned to the series during the Fourth Doctor’s era in the serial “Meglos” playing the part of Princess Lexa, the religious leader of the Deons, marking the first (but not last) time a companion would reappear in the show as another character. The legendary Nicholas Courtney who portrayed Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (first appearing during the Second Doctor Era) had previously appeared in the First Doctor serial “The Daleks Master Plan” as space security agent Bret Vyon killed by his own sister (First Doctor companion Sara) in Episode 4. Lalla Ward had also appeared as Princess Astra in “The Armageddon Factor” before appearing as Time Lady Romana, and Jean Marsh returned during the last season of the original run as Morgaine in “Battlefield” despite appearing as First Doctor Companion Sara Kingdom in the early seasons.

The Fires of PompeiiThere have also been an abundance of reused actors in the revived series – namely Karen Gillan who of course played Eleventh Doctor companion Amelia Pond and originally appeared as the Soothsayer in “The Fires of Pompeii”; Freema Agymen who played Tenth Doctor companion Martha Jones having previously played Adeola Oshodi in the first part of Series 2’s finale “Army of Ghosts” – a character later confirmed to be Martha’s “cousin;” and of course there’s Eve Myles who portrayed Gwyneth in Series 1’s “The Unquiet Dead” before rising to Whoniverse fame as Torchwood heroine Gwen Cooper – her own additional appearances explained by “spacial-genetic multiplicity”.

Other New Who doppelgängers include Chipo Chung who played Chantho in “Utopia” before returning exactly one series later as the fortune teller on Shan Shen, and Adjoa Andoh who first came to Doctor Who as the wonderfully droll Cat-Nurse Sister Jatt in 2006’s “New Earth” but later reappeared as Martha’s mum Francine in Series 3. Continuing the trend of actors making appearances under heavy make-up and then without we have the double-casting of Mark Gatiss who portrayed both Gantok in “The Wedding of River Song” and Professor Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment”. Of course we cannot fail to mention the brilliance of both Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey who have also portrayed various Silurians and Sontarans throughout the show’s revival.

david-troughton-midnightSpecial mentions go to David Troughton – son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton – who has appeared as Professor Hobbs in 2008’s “Midnight”, a guard in 1967’s “The Enemy of the World”, Private Moore in 1969’s “The War Games” and King Peladon in 1972’s “The Curse of Peladon”; as well as Bernard Cribbins, who we know and love as Donna’s grandfather Wilfred Mott having previously appeared in the Peter Cushing films as police officer Tom Campbell.

Conclusion

As you can see reusing actors in Doctor Who is far from a new concept, and to date the only writer to ever acknowledge the recycling of talent in Russell T Davies. So why is there such a demand for Peter Capaldi’s previous appearances to be explained? The answer of course lies not within the show, but within the show’s audience. With the inclusion of more advanced and “clever” plot twists we’ve become accustomed to there being a BIG-FINALE-FIREWORKS-BANG explanation to anything.

We’ve reached a point where even something as mundane as double-casting, something that has happened over and over again throughout the show’s incredibly long history, needs justification and explanations. Personally, I whole heartedly agree with Ste-Mo for choosing to not turn Capaldi’s previous appearances into a major plot device because at the end of the day, it really shouldn’t matter. To quote the man himself:

“Truthfully I don’t think it’s something you have to resolve because audiences do understand that the same actor can play different parts. So in a very low-key way we’ll address it. It won’t be a major deal because in the end people know the real reason is he’s played by the same actor.”

His plans hardly sound major, simply a way to please both the people demanding clarification by acknowledging it, and the people who really couldn’t give two Zarbis by not expanding it into a major arc. Quite frankly the best resolution I could hope for would be a simple monologue at the conclusion of an episode. Just enough to avoid “plot hole” allegations, but not enough to cause outrage. A monologue over a backing of clips featuring the Curator, Salamander, Maxil, the Abbot, Lucius Caecilius and Mr. Frobisher (the politician, not the Penguin) stating that;

“Sometimes, dear Clara, when we think about how enormous the universe is… how many people have lived, loved and died … how many faces have watched the same sun rise and set.. it’s only logical to assume that sometimes the universe likes to repeat itself, sometime the universe likes to revisiting a few faces. But just the old favorites.”

Step back in time...

COMMENT GUIDELINES

Please be civil and keep article comments relevant and on topic. Flag and report any offensive/trolling behavior, or contact us with details.
Please do not post SPOILERS including anything from leaked episodes! Your account could be banned. For complete details on our comment policy please read.
136 comments
ejrtairne
ejrtairne

And what about Peter Purves? Surely that is one of the more remarkable situations!

Maiden_Ty_One
Maiden_Ty_One

Double-casting is no big deal, TV shows do it all the time. The X Files and Stargate would double cast all over the place - in fact The X Files even cast the actor Colin Cunningham 3 times as 3 different people - triple casting, in other words.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

So one of the oddest regenerations we ever saw was Romana's.  Not only did she seem to do it through choice she picked her appearance and in the end chose the face of Princess Astra.  So why not the same for the Doctor?  Maybe not deliberately but somehow he chooses the way he looks?  It would explain the 6th and the 12th.

Doctor Who-The Master
Doctor Who-The Master

David Tennant was also in the web-cast The Scream of the Shalka, although he was Uncreadeted and unpayed because he was recording something else and meat the crue and persuaded them them for him to have a cameo.

JLS1138
JLS1138

Here's the thing...I don't think it needs to be addressed BUT Moffat just had to pull out the convo he had with RTD and Russ' idea of how it could work. So, I think it's good that they'll address it in a low-key way and then move on.

Diana van der Pluijm
Diana van der Pluijm

I'm still firmly of the opinion that it doesn't have to be addressed or explained in any way, shape or form. I do understand certain people would like that, but really is it necessary? I believe it's completely unnecessary and instead of having to deal with this, let's rather put a bit more effort into the plot, which is far more interesting than some arbitrary explanation about why the Doctor has a face we've seen before. Suspense of disbelief, I believe it's called.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

It would be a nice touch if Moffat explained all of the doppelgangers throughout the show's history as well as Capaldi's previous faces. Please do this Moffat.

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

i dont need an explanation maybe newer fans need one but i dont

Thomas Thomas
Thomas Thomas

John Frobisher was actually Frobisher the shape shifting Penguin in disguise as the Doctor to achieve political power!”  - Head canon accepted. 










Richy Woo
Richy Woo

I think a simple low key explanation has already been put in place, its the same reason there are multiple Clara Oswald's wandering around time and space. When you wander into somebody else's time stream scar thingy as Clara and the Doctor did in Time Of The Doctor it creates echo's and shadows that the universe may resolve as alternate versions of you.

YouveBeenDuplicated
YouveBeenDuplicated

Reason #76829 that Season 8 cannot arrive fast enough: I really really really want to stop talking about this "issue".

Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese
Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese

I'm really paranoid now. What if the contributor read the leaked scripts and took the quote at the end from there?!

BrianReeves
BrianReeves

Realistically as viewers we should be able to seperate fact from fiction and realize it's just an actor playing multiple roles which doesn't have to be some grand scheme, it's just the nature of the beast as it were..

Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese
Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese

Everyone "forgets" the Big Finish example because it wasn't part of the TV Series.
I don't see why that should be counted, especially as the NUMEROUS times actors from the show have played different characters in Big Finish.

mrclever
mrclever

If ever the Valeyard came back Julian Bleach is the man to play him

Night at the Whovies
Night at the Whovies

"Couldn't give two Zarbis", very funny.


Also, David Tennant was some guard from the Richard E. Grant animation Scream of the Shalka 40th anniversary celebration. Yes I know it's not cannon but it's funny to think that a 'Red Shirt' equivalent who gets killed off early on would soon become the main actor.

Switcharoo
Switcharoo

In 'The Day of the Doctor', the Doctor (as played by TV's David Tennant) compared the process of regeneration to 'a lottery'. 

He did. So, with that in mind, perhaps it's possible that Time Lords approach their biological spruce ups in one of two ways. Either go with the special set of numbers that they've carefully, methodically and personally selected,.....or.....simply say 'Sod it' and just take a punt on a Lucky Dip. The first option - personal selection - gives the Galifreyan in question some say in shaping his/her future shape. Witness Romana's desire to look exactly like a character from a disappointing season finale, or the 'So You're About To Be Exiled On Earth In A New Incarnation' brochure the Time Lords very kindly provided for the Second Doctor at the end of 'The War Games' (he didn't like any of them.....fussy s*d). These instances clearly indicate that, in some circumstances, Time lords can indeed select whatever future appearance their little hearts desire. Good for them. Option two, the lucky dip - the option so clearly beloved of our Police Box inhabiting friend - leaves this important decision to the whims of regenerative fate. Why.....we don't know, but the Doctor clearly loves the thrill of not knowing what he's going to get, otherwise he'd be selecting more Three's and less (insert least popular Doctor number here). He gets to go though the whole 'Oh that's not me at all' shenanigans....before eventually deciding that his new body is probably the bestest one he's ever had.....ever. So there. He's a funny old b*gger isn't he?

jonstewartshow
jonstewartshow



You missed one.   William Hartnell also played "Professor Webster" at the end of Feast of Steven. 
Oh god... I've now gotten to the 'correcting Doctor Who websites" level of fandom?



TheCyberDoctor Doesn't Listen
TheCyberDoctor Doesn't Listen

To be honest can we ever truly be sure Moffat is telling the truth, especially before a series starts, he lies all the time. Just to keep us on our toes and guessing! (I doubt he's lying this time, but he could be!) :P

Kathrin Lily Franke
Kathrin Lily Franke

I'm not forgetting Feldwebel Kurz (David Tennant), but I think many of the new fans haven't quite got into the Audios (or at least not the Classic Doctors' audios) yet, and so they wouldn't know. And I only downloaded that, because I was born near there - and because I love David. I have to admit he does a good German accent (both when he's speaking German and English).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Anyway I don't have a problem with either Doctors or companions having appeared on the show before. There's always the theoretical possibility that some future incarnation was working undercover (chameleon arch or no) somewhere - so his companion, if he had one at the time, would be there as well. We don't see Chinny in Fires, but he may just be at the other end of town when Sandshoes and Eyebrows (12) meet. Amy loves Roman history, so it would be reasonable for the Doctor to have taken her there to have a look. He hid his TARDIS somewhere out of town (or maybe they were in Rome and came down for the day to find something was wrong) and they went undercover. This would also explain why Caecilius took Sandshoes' TARDIS - they look sufficiently similar to confuse it with his own. If he'd been using the Arch, he wouldn't know exactly what it was, but it's look familiar... and it certainly would be a nice curiosity to show off to friends and business partners. Same could have happened in Children of Earth, but without a companion.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Admittedly, that maybe a little difficult to explain in 'a low-key way' but it would be fun, because then we'd have a lot more possibilities to have retrospective multi-Doctor stories. But whatever way they explain it, I'll be happy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I didn't know about Hartnell and Troughton, haven't quite got that far yet, but the editting must have been a nightmare in those days, especially for the Troughton one where they would have had a lot of scenes together.        

Polyphase
Polyphase

Really, There are some people who need an explanation? Thankfully there's not many on here.

Imagine their disapointment when thay find out about Santa :)

pyroclasticflow
pyroclasticflow

@davidbrummy That is also what I was thinking. If Romana was able to do this decades ago, why shouldn't the 12th doctor be able to? Perhaps he just wanted that particular face!

sontaran17
sontaran17

@JLS1138 There was quite an aggresive demand for it to be addressed before Moffat mentioned anything

Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!
Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!

Except Clara's echoes were all literally her, not just people who looked like her. You're suggesting that the Doctor would give up hundreds of children to be used as narcotics and then murder himself and his whole family? O.O


Kathrin Lily Franke
Kathrin Lily Franke

@Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese Because, despite the fact that many of us 'New Who' fans haven't got deeply into the audios yet, they're still considered canon (secondary, perhaps, but still canon). But yes, it's easier to skip over the voice-actors, because they're not as present as the ones we see on screen.

Creepy_Ghoul
Creepy_Ghoul

@mrclever And how about the original Valeyard? I know he's still alive, doing some audios for Big Finish.

Awqwapwnics
Awqwapwnics

@Night at the Whovies He found out that the webcast's audio was being recorded nearby whilst recording a radio play in a neighbouring studio and wagged the director for a small role.




douglasthomson
douglasthomson

@Manyname My head canon is that most Time Lords never leave Gallifrey and so their regenerations are always controlled, sanitary, hospitalised procedures that allow for full control over the process - whereas the Doctor has only managed to regenerate on Gallifrey once (2nd to 3rd) so has always had to trust to fate and hope he doesn't end up with no head.

Unibot
Unibot

@Manyname But then there's The Stolen Earth, where Tennant regenerated into himself? :P 

jonstewartshow
jonstewartshow

Actually... I just realized that the actor's name is listed as Albert Barrington.   I just rewatched a retcon, and it's clearly Hartnell dressed differently (and in a funny voice).   I don't see any reference to this online... but Barrington is only listed once and was very much a pseudonym for Hartnell...

SirTrey
SirTrey

@Polyphase I haven't come across anyone who thinks the Doctor's resemblance should be some kind of series arc or anything like that, but it would be a cool note, much like the brief acknowledgement of Eve Myles double appearance in "Journey's End"...there are two simple reasons this didn't come up then and did now: 1) It's the Doctor, so people  notice a bit more than with a character from a spin-off, and 2) There was a year between casting and 8 months between his first full appearance and the beginning of Season 8, so people are talking about it a lot.  

Add that to Davies already telling Moffat he had an explanation from back in the Torchwood days (which means no less an authority than a prior showrunner "needed", or at least wanted and had thought of, an explanation) and why not just throw it in?

 Notsosmartguy
Notsosmartguy

@Polyphase Some people want an explanation. I don't see how that's a bad thing. Just as not needing one isn't.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

@SephoraNeedSeries8 @davidbrummy Will they can as Romana did and she is a Time Lady.  Unless of course Time Ladies can and Time Lords can not.  As I said my view is the Doctor does not have that much control of his regeneration process so it is more of a sub conscious thing.

Arkleseizure
Arkleseizure

Interesting idea, but it does make me wonder if there was an earlier, "zeroth" Romana, who'd earlier visited the planet Tara.

Arkleseizure
Arkleseizure

Surely the issue here is one character looking like another. Audio characters don't "look" like anybody, so the issue doesn't really arise.

Chris502
Chris502

@Unibot @Manyname No he didn't change into himself he just cut the energy that changes your face off before they could take effect.

sontaran17
sontaran17

@jonstewartshow I don't think that's correct unfortunately XD There is no record anywhere of A) Hartnell playing Webster and B) Barrington being a pseudonym for Hartnell 

pyroclasticflow
pyroclasticflow

@Arkleseizure Let's hope so. I'd LOVE to see Romana return, whether it's an earlier version of herself or a later regeneration. I read somewhere that supposedly she wasn't on Gallifrey during the Time War but I don't know enough about classic Doctor Who to say for certain.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

@Arkleseizure yep.  Same with the Doctor having previously met the Abbot or Salamander in an unseen adventure. Of course this implies the Doctor may have met the Curator at some point previous to his 4th Incarnation.

I think if the Doctor does it is more of a sub conscious level than Romana as he does seem surprised in general by his appearance post regeneration.

Kathrin Lily Franke
Kathrin Lily Franke

@Chris502 @Unibot @Manyname Yep, he repaired himself and then chanelled the rest of the energy into his hand. Frankly, a full regeneration would probably have been fatal to everyone in that situation.                                  And Nine said something like that as well, he said 'you never know what you're going to end up with'. So, yes there's a bit of a lottery element to the whole process, but mostly I think he gets the shape and mindset he needs to be. Honestly, I'd probably go that way as well, if I got the chance to regenerate into a different shape. Just let it happen and see what you'll end up with - more fun like that, as the Doctor would say. 

jonstewartshow
jonstewartshow

Find a recon of Feast of Steven (not hard). Check out 22:45-22:55 (using telesnaps).  It also plays into the fact that they mistook The Doctor for Webster earlier in the episode.  If that's not Hartnell, I'll eat my hat.


pyroclasticflow
pyroclasticflow

@davidbrummy @Arkleseizure Agreed. That could also go in with the characterization of Romana as a know-it-all. She did extremely well in her studies while the Doctor... not so much. Perhaps she has a better handle of choosing her own regeneration because of this. Could always be that the Doctor just likes to be surprised though!

jonstewartshow
jonstewartshow

That being said... the snaps are possibly edited.   But the vocals on the audio track sound close enough to Hartnell's, and the show has been known to hide names on occasion!    My hat will remain uneaten.